Organic lobby concedes GM-coexistence is inevitable

Organic farming and genetically modified cropping will co-exist, two of organic farming’s staunchest defenders admitted at a public debate in London as DEFRA’s consultation on co-existence draws to a close this week.

But DEFRA proposals for keeping the crops separate are too weak, they insisted. Wider separation distances, a lower limit for GM contamination of organic seed, a compulsory register of fields growing GM crops and improved liability rules are all needed, they said.

“Co-existence will happen, because of the big dollars behind GM,” organic farmer Oliver Dowding told the Farming and the Future: Can GM and Organic Crops Co-exist? debate organised by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council and chaired by Radio 4’s Today Programme star John Humphrys.

“I expect we will see it, but we need more robust and more transparent protocols in place,” agreed Lawrence Woodward, director of Elm Farm Research Centre.

Damage to organic farming’s marketing message was a key concern. “I can see a greater risk from co-existence, because of the impact on my market, and I’m not prepared to take any risk at the moment, because I can see all the risk and no benefit for me,” said Mr Dowding.

After the debate Mr Woodward told Farmers Weekly he would be happy with a 0.1% limit for GM in organic seed, instead of the proposed 0.5% limit. He also wanted wider separation distances, more in line with earlier trials, and a register of fields growing GM crops, plus better liability provision, such as the laws in place in Germany or the industry fund in Denmark.

Herts farmer Bob Fiddaman, who chairs SCIMAC, the UK breeding industry’s co-existence initiative, said co-existence was quite achievable. “Give farmers the protocols and we can implement them. I grow double low rapeseed for food use and HEAR industrial rape which is poisonous to humans. With the right separation distances and on-farm protocols I can meet the 0.3% admix threshold, even with volunteers to cope with. It has been measured and it can be done. We can do the same with GM.”

He felt GM crops would be grown in the UK by 2010, particularly if BASF’s blight tolerant GM potatoes, which are currently under field evaluation, prove a success.

The debate came against a backdrop of almost 70,000ha of GM crops being grown across the EU this season, with co-existence measures particularly well advanced in the Czech Republic, and fast being developed in Spain, France and Germany. 

• Organic advocates accept co-existence inevitable.
• Tighter rules on seed, separation and field registration needed.
• Clearer liability rules required.
• DEFRA consultation closes on Friday (20 Oct) – e-mail:
• More info at,, and

* See Farmers Weekly of 27 Oct for a US view of GM, followed by co-existence Czech style on Nov 3.

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